Get prepared with an IPv6 internet address

As you may have heard, the Internet is running out of space. Specifically, the addressing system known as the Internet Protocol or IP address that uniquely identifies every single device connected to the global network is close to maximum capacity in its IPv4 guise.

Blame Vint Cerf, the man who invented IPv4 about 40 years ago, and who never imagined that 4 billion IP addresses wouldn’t be enough.

What does the address shortage mean today in practical terms? Probably not much at the moment to the average business or personal user but Charles Arthur’s explanation in The Guardian last month may give it a more immediate focus:

[…] This could mean that in a year’s time you may hear about a new site – yet when you type its address into a web browser or click a link to it on a web page, your computer simply won’t connect to it because it will use an addressing system entirely different to the one used before.

It could even get worse than that, according to James Blessing, a member of the board of the UK’s Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA). "You might find that you can’t get online unless someone else goes offline," he said. "It would be like the internet before broadband, when everything was on dial-up modems, and if too many people were dialling in then you couldn’t get connected."

The problem has been exacerbated, experts agree, because ISPs, governments and companies that make the routers used in households and businesses have ignored the problem until the last moment.

The solution is a new addressing protocol called IPv6 designed to succeed IPv4 that experts believe will resolve this address exhaustion issue for the foreseeable future.

While IPv4 allows 32 bits for an Internet Protocol address, and can therefore support 2[to the power of 32] (4,294,967,296) addresses, IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses, so the new address space supports 2[to the power of 128] (approximately 340 undecillion or 3.4×10[to the power of 38]) addresses.

Put in plain English, that’s 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 addresses. A lot, in other words, far more than a paltry 4,000,000,000! So there will be plenty of addresses to go around for anyone and anything to connect to the net for a long time to come.

This isn’t something I’ve thought about much other than note the various reports and stories in recent months. Then I noticed that my hosting service, DreamHost, offers IPv6 addresses now at no extra cost. And they explain it very simply:

[…] While an IPv4 address today might look like:

192.0.2.235

an IPv6 address would look like:

2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334

So I set one up for this website which means I’m good to go when IPv4 hits the buffers, which could be as soon as late 2011. My IPv6 address is –

http://[2607:F298:0002:0120:0000:0000:0DDC:1DD7]/

Click it and see. It translates into the human-friendly address you will recognise –

http://nevillehobson.com/

If you want to get your own IPv6 address, talk to your hosting service. It may take a little while to propagate across the internet’s addressing system but all should be good within 24-36 hours.

One thing to note – right now, an IPv6 address doesn’t appear to be well supported by URL shortening services like bit.ly and is.gd – both gave errors when I checked my IPv6 address with them, insisting it wasn’t a valid URL. Google’s shortener works fine.

I’m not losing any sleep over this, by the way, and nor should you, but it’s one less thing to have to think about in the (near) future.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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